Thursday, December 06, 2007

Housing in Soeul: a study in frustration

One of the most important things when starting up in a new country is to find shelter. Procuring housing in Seoul is an interesting and frustrating process.

Upon landing in Korea, our English Company has put Steve and I up in a hotel behind the school. This is of course a temporary situation, until we can find a place to live.

The hotel we are currently staying in (which we will have to start paying for as of Sunday, at $40 a night) is called a Love Hotel. There are many Love Hotels in the area behind the school. What is a Love Hotel, you ask? Take a guess. I'll just say that Koreans tend to live at home until they are married, but have girlfriends/boyfriends before that, and that there is a high percentage of cheating among marriages... So I think you can guess on the use of the Love Hotel.

Hilariously, each Love Hotel tries to outdo the next in tacky outside decor. Flashing neon signs, multi-coloured English and Koren words advertising the pleasing room, fake plastic plants and tube lights - still in a coil - stapled to the wall! "Come and stay at the Lexy Hotel!" Yes, very lexy...

Actually, staying at the Love Hotel is awesome. We both have our own rooms, complete with huge bed, super clean western-style washrooms, huge TVs (with cable), and a cleaning service every day! The TV even has three or four English channels, one of which being the American Military Broadcasting Network - intersplicing your favorite shows with inspirational military content. Last night, we caught Million Dollar Baby. Great movie.

Steve and I are looking for a two or three bedroom apartment close to the school (in Shincheon, an area of Seoul) or on Line 2 of the subway, which is close to the school. We also want it to be close to the fun area of Hongik (university area, clubs, pubs, jazz spots). Unfortunately, almost all the apartments in Seoul are one-bedrooms. That, or tiny dirty unfinished two-shoebox-sized-bedrooms.

The process for finding a place is to have an interpreter join you at a Real Estate Agents, where they talk a lot in Korean and you wait, nodding when they gesture to you. Eventually, the Agent understands what you want and you follow them to the apartment. They open the door, show you around in Korea, while the translator (in our case today, one of our teaching friends) rattles off what she says. "This is a two bedroom. This is the bathroom. This is the floor..." and so on.

Three days ago, we found a great place on the fifth floor with three rooms. Steve and I both loved it, and compared to the other places we were shown, it was better that the rest. It even had a roof top patio! Unfortunately, today we found out that the landlord has a bad credit rating and our school will not pay the key money, meaning we can't live there. Ugh...

(Key money is one year's rent payed in a lump sum up front. That is how rent works here - pay once and that's it. Obviously, we can't afford that so the school pays the key money and we pay back the school.)

So that leaves us with out number two choice, another three bedroom (cheaper) in not as good a location. Hopefully, we can get that one...

I will update you with what happens and what house we get soon. Now, it is time for my first weekend here and sleeping and going out. Should be fun!

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